The state has issued an alert because of concerns about potential health problems caused by smoke from forest fires in Eastern Kentucky.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health said that tests conducted Tuesday showed air quality was in the unhealthy range in some areas of Bell, Harlan and Rockcastle counties for people with respiratory disorders, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
There also were concerns about unhealthy air quality in Knott, Perry and Breathitt counties, and test readings were at hazardous levels in some areas of Breathitt, Laurel and Whitley counties, according to a news release.
Air quality changes as winds shift and fire conditions change, however. By Wednesday afternoon, air quality was rated as good across the region except in parts of Harlan County, according to information from the Department for Public Health.
“It looks like a lot of it has cleared up today, which is good news,” said Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
However, the public health alert over forest-fire smoke remained in place because of the potential for conditions to change, Hogan said.
Firefighters were working to contain 25 blazes at midday Wednesday, nearly all of them in southeastern Kentucky, said Jennifer Turner, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Forestry.
Since the outbreak of fires started Oct. 29 in the state’s tinder-dry forests, there have been 179 blazes that have scorched 29,390 acres, Turner said.
Forest fires burned 18,583 acres in the state last year, meaning the fires over the last 10 days have done more damage than all the fires from the spring and fall 2015 seasons combined.
“These are much, much bigger,” Turner said of fires in the current outbreak.
The Kentucky National Guard continued using helicopters to drop water on fires. The Guard has dropped 500,000 gallons of water since joining the firefighting effort last week, according to Kentucky Emergency Managment.
The agency said 63 counties have issued burn bans.
Turner said there is not a forecast for significant rainfall to help quell fires until next week.
The state health alert provided the following tips from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to deal with exposure to smoke:
▪ Pay attention to local air quality reports. When a wildfire occurs in your area, watch for news or health warnings about smoke.
▪ Stay indoors if told to do so and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. Seek shelter elsewhere if you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed.
▪ Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Don’t smoke, because that puts even more pollution into the air.
▪ Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
▪ Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper masks trap large particles such as sawdust, but will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection.
▪ Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Before you travel to a park or forest, check to see if any wildfires are happening or if any prescribed burns are planned.
Public health-related impacts and requests for assistance should be sent to the State Health Operations Center via email at CHFSDPHDOC@ky.gov. If you need help after normal business hours, the Department for Public Health’s on-call epidemiologist can be reached at 1-888-9REPORT (973-7678).